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UK Navy To Use New Submarine For Underwater Drone-Teaming Operations

In a deal aimed at strengthening Britain's ability to protect undersea cables and pipelines, the Royal Navy has ordered what it claims will be the largest and most complex unmanned submarine operated by a European navy.
Boeing underwater drone.

The contract should see the 12-meters-long submarine delivered to the Royal Navy in two years. The vehicle, named after a mythological sea monster, is the latest in a growing list of investments by the British. The battery-powered vessel will be able to cover up to 1,000 miles in a single mission.

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The contract was won by M Subs, a small specialised underwater vehicle manufacturer situated in Plymouth, South West England, and the 12-meter-long submarine is expected to be delivered to the Royal Navy in two years.

The Ministry of Defence announced the £15.4 million ($18.9 million) contract on December 1 as the “first step in developing an operational autonomous submarine that will work side-by-side with crewed submarines – including the Astute-class hunter-killers and their successors – or independently.”

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Project Cetus

The vehicle, dubbed Project Cetus after a mythological sea monster, is the latest in a growing list of British investments aimed at strengthening the country’s ability to protect key underwater infrastructure from potential sabotage – a threat heightened by the recent attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

The Ministry of Defence announced last month that it was holding a competition worth around £20 million to supply the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Navy’s support arm, with a remotely operated deep water salvage capability.

This news comes just days after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that leaders intend to speed up the delivery of the first of two multirole ocean surveillance ships ordered by the British to protect underwater cables.

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Delivery Date

The first of the ships is anticipated to be delivered within the next several weeks, far ahead of schedule.

Wallace stated in a statement announcing the unmanned submarine purchase that the Royal Navy wants to stay ahead of the competition with cutting-edge capabilities in order to face the “increasing threats to our undersea infrastructure.” Along with moving forward the MROS ships, Project Cetus will assist guarantee we have the proper equipment to preserve the security of the UK and our allies.” The British commissioned a bespoke unmanned watercraft that is the length of a London double decker bus, has a diameter of 2.2 metres, and weighs 17 tonnes.

The British have previously invested in a specialised tech trials ship, Cetus, which the MoD describes as the “equivalent for subsea experiments.” According to the MoD, the battery-powered vessel would be able to traverse up to 1,000 miles in a single mission, however the range may be enhanced by installing extra batteries.

Other improvements to the modular-built vessel could include the addition of an optional section that can double its capacity. Until now, the Navy has experimented with and operated autonomous underwater systems in locations such as Scotland, where Britain bases its nuclear submarine fleet. The majority, however, are small, off-the-shelf systems primarily used in mine hunting.

First Sea Lord Adm. Sir Ben Key described the deal as “hugely exciting” and “in a different league” than unmanned underwater vehicles purchased by the British to date. “This extra large autonomous underwater vehicle represents a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battle space,” he explained.

FAQs

The critical capability is being developed as part of ‘Project Cetus,’ which aims to improve the RN’s underwater warfare capabilities while also increasing the RN’s autonomous underwater system experimentation.

The British Royal Navy has acquired three new REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), which will improve mission efficiency and data quality.

The service operates six fleet submarines (SSNs) of the Trafalgar and Astute classes (with two more Astute-class boats under construction) and four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). These submarines are all nuclear-powered.

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